You Go Girl!

How a three-word cheer became a paragon for gender segregation

pink-flower-field-2

It was said so matter of fact, impulsively even. Like a gag reflex.

75 miles into the 112 mile bike portion of my Ironman and I was feeling good. Picking up speed too — training in motion. In triathlon, there are rules against riding behind others; it is called a “no drafting” policy. This means people are often left making pass after pass in the inevitable shift of individual pace making. I was among six or seven riders doing just this thing. One of them was a man wearing a Mont Tremblant kit (an Ironman course with the distinction of being among the most difficult in Ironman’s portfolio). At one point, he groused, “You’re fast too!,” referring to me, along with another women who was also trading passes. Eventually, she left us for good and was on her way. Soon I did the same. As I passed Mt. T, he said it. “You Go Girl.”

Surely we can assume it was to be a complement. I will take it as such. But not without an eye roll. Exactly when did this happen? When did a gender-defined blurt become to the go-to salvo for cheering on women?

Over the last several years, women have made great strides in sport — both professionally and recreationally. Yet, it seems that in equal measure a swath of pink and a tangle of tutu are cutting through that progress. The “You Go Girl” bromide is simply a byproduct.

Let me explain.

An emphasis on encouraging women into sports such as running and triathlon has effectively done just that — it has served to raise the number of women who are becoming active (more than half of newcomers to triathlon, for instance, are women). So I will always support that. However, the tone of this encouragement has created another kind of gender issue.

That issue is the general feminizing of sport. Dousing races in pink and calling excessive attention to gender does little to propel women, or to create balance and acceptance as athletes.

Take for instance the surge of women’s running races. They are around every corner. Even Nike has one, where they give away a Tiffany necklace at the end (cliché much?). But it doesn’t end there; there are women’s-only magazines for running and many other sports, and an endless supply of products with a feminine touch. And not the kind that enhance performance, such as a gender-biased cut on a bicycle short, but a leopard print gusset on a bicycle seat, a pink dial on a GPS watch, and an increasingly pastel inventory of shoes, hats, shirts, shorts, and socks. The line between making these options available and making them the norm is beginning to blur. Ever tried NOT to buy a pink running shoe? Good luck.

There is no way around seeing all of this as decidedly … ladylike. Not that being a lady is a bad thing. I embrace that. It is the overall cape that is thrown on women that gives little latitude in how we are seen, or how we choose to define ourselves.

When I entered the world of running and biking years ago, there weren’t all these florid things. There weren’t a plethora of women’s races. And women didn’t expect to always train and race together. The joy in this, for me, was that I fell in love with a sport — and with all the people who participated in it. And because men  by nature have a faster potential, they pushed me to work harder. Rather than sitting on the periphery with a carved-out group of women, I immersed myself and ended up feeling completely included. Likewise, it helped the men around me see me as equal — equally passionate, equally driven, and often, equally capable. It was a real sense of belonging to be considered an athlete, not just a female athlete.

To be clear, I am not focusing my attention on the world of professional sports, where women compete against women, and men against men. I’m referring to us regular folk — recreational athletes and middle-of-the-packers. In this world, women factioning off into their own races, their own running packs, and decorating themselves, is more akin to gender segregation. And, in fact, this trend could have very real unintended consequences on professional sports.

I have witnessed this divergence—from women being fully part of a sport, to gradually separating themselves. With the best of intentions, the entire category of sport simultaneously encouraged women and stifled their experience.

The words, “You Go Girl!” are a steady reminder of this isolation.

Certainly this, in and of itself, is not a wholesale implication that all women will be held back. It does suggest, however, that we could be. When we create walls around our gender, we run the risk of dampening our progress and of missing out on what it fully means to be an athlete.

If women are raised to see sport intrinsically linked to femininity and fragility, we suspend ourselves in hazy, pink ether. And we begin to define ourselves as somehow less competent as athletes. For every fantastic role model there is out there pushing boundaries and running their professional sporting careers as a gender equal, there is a little girl in a pastel running skirt thinking that it’s cute to run, but she shouldn’t take it seriously.

I know this article will make women angry. Because: Being pretty is our right!; Dresses are fun; We choose to be around women, they are so supportive; There is nothing wrong with pink!; Are you against breast cancer support?

Sure; Yes; Good for you; Nope; Of course not.

Just remember this — women could run before there were pink shoes. They could feel real, genuine camaraderie before there were women’s-only events, and they could still wear dresses and be beautiful.

This is not an attack. It is pointing out a steady, formidable cadence of feminizing sport.

Interestingly, women can easily see the fragility and incompetence suggested when our dolls say, “Math is hard.” Or, when Legos creates a pink and purple set just for girls. It even makes us mad. It is harder to see it when we are so very complicit in painting ourselves into a pretty pink box of sport. Subtly, but surely, we are telling ourselves — and our children — that we should be treated differently.

Think about that the next time you hear, “You Go Girl!”

Originally published on Medium; to make annotations, visit the story here.

Advertisements

5 and 5: Five Tips and Five Product Recommendations for Runners

Hurdle on an athletic track

How long have you been running? It’s not something you think about, is it? Somebody asked this question recently. After some quick math, I came up with over 20 years. Twenty years!! Considering how vivid my memories of those first runs are, it’s hard to believe it has been that long. I suppose it’s not surprising that, over the years, I’ve had people ask me for tips. If they’re new to running, the answers are typically focused on the importance of a good pair of running shoes, decent technical wear, stretching and just sticking with it.

There are even more tips I would share for people who have made it over what I affectionately call “The Hurdle.” Imagine a hurdle on a track; it’s tall, and it feels like you’ll never be able to get over it. Every run before you’re able to leap over that hurdle is painful. Running stings. You walk a lot. You become certain there is no such thing as “runners high,” and you begin to curse people who happily slap those 13.1 stickers on their cars.

Yet, when you finally get over that hurdle, running changes. I don’t think it ever gets easy. But it feels a bit more effortless. You find a rhythm. When every step stops being a reminder about how far you have to go, you can find a real sense of pleasure in running.

If you are a Hurdle Jumper, here are my 5 & 5 — five tips and five products I recommend for runners.

5 Tips for Runners

1. Core work. It is very important to add core training into your routine. Running puts a lot of demands on your body. Developing a strong core allows your entire body to assist in the effort – by creating stability, and improving the quality and efficiency of your run. And, despite how the term is commonly used, core is much more than your abs. It is everything that gives your center of gravity strength. That means your abdominals, lower back, obliques and even your pelvic floor muscles. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time. Here are a few links to great routines that you can do in 15 minutes or less.

2. Speed work. My running improved dramatically when I regularly added speed work into my training. For me, it is at least one day a week of something that moves the intensity up the scale. To improve, our bodies need to learn how to train at intensity, how to clear lactic acid efficiently, and push through pain. There are a number of track workouts available online.

A very straightforward workout is the 6 x 200. Warm up on a track for a mile or two, easy pace. Then, do 200 meters at your 5k pace, jogging between sets for 200 meters. Cool down for a mile. I also like 6 x 400s, with 400 meters at 5k pace, jogging 200 between sets.

When I can’t get to a track, I locate a stretch of road that is somewhat straight and as flat as possible (though, invariably, there will be hills) and do quarter mile repeats, jogging back to the start after each set.

I also throw in short, fast runs in a pinch. A 3-mile run that is a little slower than your 5k pace is a great and simple way of incorporating some speed work. Even running stairs is a great way to push your anaerobic effort.

3. Put the pasta down. It is easy to tell yourself that you need to carb up. But that doesn’t work for everyone. And it’s easy to mindlessly pack on pounds and get less protein than you need. Protein builds muscle. Muscle is needed to gain the strength that protects your body from the impact of running. It also helps muscles heal faster. Don’t give up carbohydrates; your body does still need them to properly process proteins and other vital nutrients. But, all too often, people think they need more than they really do. The answer isn’t always a giant bowl of pasta. Have your protein with a side of carbs. Think Greek yogurt and oatmeal. Or chicken wraps with corn tortillas and vegetables. If you’d like a little more scientific exploration of this topic, give this a read.

4. Go data-less. Data can be a fantastic tool. Devices like Garmin help us understand our pace, heart rate, zones, elevation and more. It gives us insight into improving. Yet, all that data distracts us from “feeling” our runs. While I do most of my training with my Garmin, I try to be as in tune with my body as possible. So I switch the screen and don’t look at my data until after the run (with the exception of my speed work). Many also know that I go music-less (that’s another story). I try to use my body to feel distance and pace, and to push myself. If you can’t get out on a run and take a guess at your pace, or how far you have gone, I consider that a clear sign that you need a lesson in tuning into your body. It’s not always about training in a zone, or at a certain pace. You cannot forget the love of running. Feeling your body move. Hearing your feet hit the ground. Give it a try — put the device down and just run. Be free.

5. Be consistent. I give this tip to newbies and long timers alike. It is particularly easy to reduce your running volume when you’re a triathlete. And you should, to a certain extent. But to really build a base and continue to improve your running, you have to be dedicated. That means more than just a couple runs a week. Whenever I find myself in a slump, I do immersion running — doing a run every day. It helps me build back up and renew focus. For me, it’s shorter miles (usually around 3), in between my mid distance weekly runs. Scheduling doesn’t always make this easy. But if you keep the miles short, you can almost always squeeze in and extra 20 or thirty minutes somewhere.

5 Products for Runners

1. Wright Socks. If you have problems with blisters and sweaty feet like I do, you’ll appreciate these socks. They are a double-layer sock that redistributes the friction that causes blisters.

2. Brave Solider Friction Zone. This can be a pretty individual thing, but I really love Brave Solider. I started using it for cycling, and realized quickly that it works very well for running if you suffer from chaffing at all. Occasionally, my shorts will give me trouble on long, humid runs and this stuff stays put. It also smells a bit herbal and totally fantastic.

3. Amphipod Handheld Bottle. Finding a bottle that doesn’t leak and feels acceptable to hold for hours is harder than you might think. For longer runs, this Amphipod handheld bottle fits the bill. It has an ergonomic design and a flexible neoprene band that ratchets for a snug fit, a pouch that holds a couple of gels and a key. And, it doesn’t leak. A total keeper.

4. Coppertone Sport. Have you ever had a run where you thought you were suffocating in your own skin? I have learned the hard way that not all lotion and spray sun blocks are created equal for athletes. Generally, lotions have clogged my pores. That will ruin a run in a nanosecond. Coppertone Sport, however, has consistently worked. For the summer months, it is a staple. I need a frequent buyer card.

5. Road ID. If you run alone, you owe it to yourself to pick up a Road ID. Should the worst case scenario happen, your vital information, emergency contact and insurance information are all stored on the Road ID website via a pin number. If it doesn’t give you peace of mind, it should provide it to your family.

[UPDATE: Triathlete Magazine just shared news about an app Road ID has issued for free. I downloaded it within five minutes of reading the piece.  It has two functions – an “ecrumb” tracker and a lock screen. The ecrumb is a tracker that you turn on, so friends and family don’t worry why your 3 hour ride is taking 4. It lets them track your progress, so they don’t have to worry. The lock screen lets you add your vitals, and emergency contact, to the lock screen of your phone — easy access for emergency medicine, should it be necessary.]

Ironman Florida 2013: Race Report

READER DISCLAIMER: I am posting this mostly for myself, as it it will let me have a record of what I went though for future races. Feel free to read this if you’re interested! 

IMFL

On November 2nd, 2013, I competed in my second Ironman — Ironman Florida, in Panama City Beach. Last year, I completed Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Deciding on Florida meant I would have races on two ends of a spectrum. The Coeur d’Alene course was highlighted by frigid water (54° – it required a neoprene cap under the swim cap), a brisk and mountainous bike (quite literally) and a cool and moderately hilly run. It was by far and away the most picturesque race I have done, of any kind. Florida would be an unpredictable ocean swim, a  flat and probably-windy bike, and a warm and flat run. The ocean wouldn’t make for bad scenery, but we wouldn’t see it much.

Unlike last year, the race would be within driving distance. And I would be competing with three other friends. With all of our families and a contingent of friends, there would be dozens of people on course to cheer us on.

That made me all kinds of anxious. I’m a worrier by trade, so knowing that I would have all of these people watching made me a ball of nerves. I felt I had to perform. Getting plucked out of the water was my worst nightmare.

The day before the race, our group went out for a quick swim/bike/run. The weather was mean. Heavy winds (easily around 15-20 mph) coming off the ocean made for five to six foot swells and intense gusts on the bike. Getting down to the water with my wetsuit in tow, I was in trouble. I have a very complex relationship with the water. Having learned to swim only a few years ago, there is a part of me that deeply fears crashing waves and the utter smallness created by my presence in it. I broke into snotty, irrational tears. Slowly, I was coaxed into the water by my training buddy, Carlos. I turned and ran into shore dozens of times. Each time, he dragged me back in. I was unclear about how to dive waves and was continuously if not violently turned in summersaults with each crashing wave. Finally, with help from an unwavering Carlos, I mastered it and we got past the breakers. Coming back in though, I lost my racing goggles. My boyfriend remedied this with a quick trip to Sports Authority.

All I could do was hope the weather report held true and the conditions would calm down for race day.

That night, Carlos and I cooked a meal for our friends and family at our rented condo, enjoyed some laughs and headed to bed at 8:00 pm sharp. The 3:30 am wake up came quickly. Some coffee, oatmeal and yogurt and we were on our way for body marking.

My race goal was to beat my Coeur d’Alene time, which was 13:32. It seemed doable for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being that the course in Florida is flat. I was hoping for 13:00, or to break 13:00 if I could.

SWIM (2.4 miles): 1:13:13

Making our way down to the water, it was clear that conditions were in our favor. The wind was blowing toward the ocean, keeping the waves at bay. There were some breakers to get through at the start, but it looked calm on the other side. One of my friends and I headed over to the 1:30 self seed area. My head was spinning. A hug. A quick prayer. The gun went off. I was doing it. It was time.

Nearly 2900 people in a mass start in the ocean is almost comical (see it here). It took several minutes to spread out enough that you could even freestyle. But once I could — despite a few kicks, swats and leg pulling — I settled in. The sun was rising over the ocean, the water was cool and salty. In that moment, I realized how awesome it was to be out there. How lucky. I didn’t panic even once. I felt at perfect harmony. I was…having fun. We looped out of the water and back in for lap two. It had only been 42 minutes. I was on track to crush my predicted finish of 2:05. The water was a little rougher by lap two, but not much. There weren’t as many people to draft at that point, yet I managed to finish the swim in 1:31:13. That was a 2:21/100 pace — exactly what I had been swimming in the pool. I’d love to improve my swim time for my next event.

TRANSITION ONE (T1): 8:45 >> It felt like this took forever. I anticipated a much faster T1, but there was a big run up to the tents and then to the bike.

BIKE (112 miles): 5:29:01

Once I was on the bike, I was ready to go! My mouth felt like somebody poured a salt shaker in it. Hydration would be really important. My pace strategy was to ride hard because the bike is my strength. I knew that I’d run slowly no matter what because I struggle with the bike-to-run. I certainly didn’t ride all out, but I pushed the pace. Because I am a slow swimmer and a fast biker there was a lot of passing, and that is pretty fun. I witnessed a lot more drafting than I expected. I’d heard stories about how prevalent it is in Florida. What a shame. I like to think that people who compete in this sport understand the importance of racing honestly.

In any case, I saw my cheering crowd at the halfway point — awesome, really motivating. At mile 95 or so, I passed one of my buddies. Then, I saw the cheering crowd again. My strategy on the bike was to take in a bottle every hour to hour and a half. Starting with two bottles of HEED on the bike, then grabbing water from aide stations. I would use only gels and honey stinger waffles for food. And would stop eating and drinking with about 30 minutes left to ride, aside from small sips of water. That would mean I could start the run without a sloshy belly. I nailed it. (I took Perform on course, which I didn’t want to, but diluted with water it worked out just fine). My pace on the bike leg was 20.42 mph. My goal was 19 mph. With the swim also faster than calculated, it was dawning on me that I was likely to hit my race goal with ease if I could just manage an OK time on the run.

TRANSITION 2 (T2): 5:51>> My legs felt awful coming off the bike. I just had to keep moving. A lot of folks were walking at this point up to the changing tents. I decided to stop and take the shoes off so I could jog it and loosen up. Once in the tent, I had a volunteer spray me with sunscreen while I dressed. I threw the shoes on, left the band aids in the bag because putting them on would be too much work, with too little reward. I also decided to keep the tri shorts on instead of changing into running shorts — to benefit from the compression they would offer on the run.

RUN (4:27:01)

Dammit. My watch. I hit the lap button twice by accident and screwed up my multi-sport mode. I had to reset the Garmin and start the run separately. Only this time, the data was messed up. The distance was reading short and my pace never read under an 11 minute mile. I was feeling so rough. The sun was hot. My boyfriend told me later it was over 80. Still mild enough, but I felt like I was cooking. The goal was to run through mile six, which would get me into St. Andrews Park, where friends were volunteering. I did my best, but I had to stop to adjust lace tension several times for my jacked up foot. And I walked some.

My nutrition strategy was simple – NO whole foods. Only gels – every 45 minutes to an hour. Avoid Perform if I could. And if I couldn’t, mix it with water. It took willpower to do this. But I stuck to the plan. Nothing would ruin my run quicker than a side ache and stomach pain.

Still, I struggled in the first half. My feet hurt so badly. The blisters formed almost immediately. I saw my cheer crew at mile three or four. That boosted my spirits. And the more the sun went down, the better I felt. But my Achilles started to scream and that caused me to stop several  times for stretching. With each stop came the intense urge to keep walking. It was mind over matter. And my brain was kicking my ass. I had to force myself to run again. At mile 14, one of the blisters burst in the shoe. It almost felt good. I saw a fellow Dailymiler at some point on the course. When the sun went down, I hit my stride and was able to run more consistently. The music was going on course. People were cheering like crazy. I felt ON FIYA. With two miles to go, I ended up next to a guy who said, “You’re looking great! You must be shooting for a sub 12:00, huh?” I was in shock. He quickly helped me with the math and I busted out a faster pace to cross the finish line. My run pace was 10:11. I had hoped for a 9:30-9:45 pace. So this fell a little shy. But, hey, how could I possibly complain!?? I need to work on the bike-to-run stuff and get my brain in the right place.

FINISH: 11:41:51

How’d I do? 27th in my age group (out of 123); 136 out of 743 women; and 866 out of 2891 total competitors. If I’m reading correctly, the top age group woman came in at 9:27 (omg). And the top woman in my AG was 10:33. So, I wasn’t THAT fast. But dammit, I was a lot faster than I thought I’d be (an hour and 20 minutes faster!). I cried crossing the finish line. This was absolutely one of the best moments of my entire life.

F*CK You Pink. How a Color is Ruining Everything.

Expurgate Pink

Not one to exploit the obvious fact that I’m a woman — I have some permanent fixtures that make this an inescapable detail — I’ve chosen to lead my life and my career genderless-ly. This is not to say that I don’t see the gaps between men and women in industry. I do. I just elect not to focus on it, as it has always been my opinion that women who do so with fervor are the ones that make us seem different, unequal and somehow more fragile.

So I don’t join women’s groups. I don’t write about the plight of women in the workforce. Instead, I encourage women to follow their dreams and work hard, like everyone else. Not to shudder or shrink, but to ask for the salaries and the positions they deserve. To shuck the inevitable assessment that she is “bitch” when she is stern and driven. To plow forward and be proud of her accomplishments. To assimilate rather than segregate.

And so we arrive at pink. I am saying it out loud and in public: F*CK You Pink. I hate you. I have always hated you. I hate that a pretty pastel has been ascribed to me without my permission and without my input. I hate that you, in a single swipe, make me somehow more delicate, softer and less capable. And f*ck you most of all for invading my safe place — sport.

When I was little, I hated dresses. I didn’t adorn my body with feathery hues or florid things. Instead, I wore t-shirts and holey jeans. I rode my bicycle, ran in the mud and got dirty. This is not to say that I didn’t play with dolls, but rather to illustrate that I was more than that. Like everyone in this world, I’m a complex human being that cannot be defined by any single measure.

Now, as I continue my love of sport as an adult, something truly exciting is happening. Thousands more people have found the thrill and reward of running and cycling. Triathlon has taken off, with nearly 60% growth from 2008 to 2011. Among the fledglings are droves of women, representing more than half of newcomers to the sport. And while it would be difficult to pin down exactly what is motivating this growth, it is clear that women are discovering their potential and are excited about challenging their bodies and minds alongside other women. It’s also easy to imagine another aspect being that women feel empowered by their newfound potential and the ability to compete around people, not genders.

The more women that participate, the more balanced the world of sports will be; the more opportunity there will be for everyone, men and women, to make a living doing what they love; and the more revenue there will be for manufacturers of sports equipment. It’s just good all the way around.

Yet, something horrible is also happening — pink has invaded. Not only that, manufacturers have found it somehow necessary to gender-define designs for things that don’t need it. Certainly, shoes, shorts, saddles and bike geometry all benefit from customization. But, when it is purely aesthetics, I take huge insult. Women’s cycling skirts? Because women must be somehow stymied by leg holes? Is it the 1930’s?

Pink bikes. Pink shoes. Pink shirts. Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink. For this, men and women are equally culpable — both are designing and flooding the market with these products. And women are buying it. Sometimes because there is no other option, and sometimes because a turbid and confusing marketing effort suggests we should.

Not all women want this. And frankly, not all women should be wearing it. Instead, we need to imagine a sport where more than a color sums us up. Imagine a female athlete in your mind. Now take out the inevitable ponytail, the flowers and the (bleck) pink. What’s left? An athlete.

So, for all the women out there who want to be defined as an athlete, unregulated by a color, this is for you.

STOP IT.

Stop it with the “Women’s Gear Guides” that weave a ribbon of pink through the whole damn thing. End the assumption that we are feeling left out because we can’t get a GPS display highlighted with pink. Or, that we need a cycling skirt, if only somebody would make one. Or, that our cycling saddles are inferior because they don’t have a fierce cheetah print running down the gusset. It’s chicanery.

Stop perpetuating the notion that women need to feel pretty, feminine and delicate. We’re not all flowers. Some of us also enjoy the sweat and the grind, and gutting it out. We want clothes that function, that protect us, that perform, that help us beat people with a smaller number scrawled on their calves, and that allow us to cross the finish line and look good doing it — and that isn’t defined by a color.

Egregious Tan Lines: For the Love of Running

Tan Lines

Running has been a part of my life for 20 years. So much is it a part of my daily routine that I can’t imagine “Me” without it. Though, when I joined cross-country as a high school freshman, it was to meet boys not for the runners high. I joined with a friend and after the first few practices we both realized it was hard…and we were really bad at it. She quit. I dug in.

Back then each run was like new words to a baby — each step and every accomplishment was not just novel, but exhilarating.  I craved progress. I wanted to get better. I needed to.

Of course, I had no way of knowing that every self-directed push to run a few extra feet — to that stop sign or bridge or turn in the road — was sealing my future love affair with running.

In my first season of cross-country, I was next to the slowest girl on my team. But it didn’t deter me. The team practiced co-ed; having the boys with us was a powerful compass for goal setting and training harder than I might normally. With a season under my belt, I was determined to best my benchmark the following year. My coach challenged me to use the summer — to run consecutive days, rain or shine, never missing a day. That was a big concept for me. None of my friends were going to do this. It would be hard and it would take commitment. I told him I would do it.

Every day of summer, I never missed a run. Rather than set aside time for it,  I let the urge to run be my guide. Sometimes it was a “wake and run,” other times the mood struck mid day, or after dinner (occasionally during it). But I always ran. To this day, running as the mood strikes is my very favorite way to do it — though it’s admittedly too hard with a career and a kid and a household to run.

By my next season I dropped nine minutes off my best 5k time, took over as team captain and was named both MVP and MIP at the close of the year. I also joined track where I ran the mile, the ½ mile, the ¼ mile and the 1600 relay. I competed in both cross-country and track regional and state competitions.

Over the years, my commitment to running has waxed and waned. But I’ve always returned to it. And I’ve been consistently running now for eight years, ramping up to longer distances along the way. These days I do Ironman — they’re my new “make it to the stop sign.” While I’m not fast enough to be competitive, I’ve never felt like a happier or more accomplished runner. These races have taught me to train harder, smarter and to enjoy every step.

Each day I when stare down at my growing set of summer tan lines, I smile. While I might look a fool next to the other moms at the pool, I know I earned these stripes.